Does it all go back in the box?


Kenny Harris at PSA 2011We don’t get long to play the game and when the game is over, it all goes back in the box.

I was reminded of our mortality this month when I heard the shocking news that one of my speaker friends had suddenly died, aged 53. He would have been, just like the rest of us, right in the middle of plans, worries, fun, business, family life. Then suddenly he had to quit the game.

It all goes back in the box.

I had my own particular affinity with Kenny Harris because not only did he speak about creativity, (as I do), but was a great stand up comedian (as I’m not, but wish I was). I had the good fortune to attend his workshops as well as share the platform with him on occasion as well as catching up at various speaker events over the past seven years.

And where the shock of his sudden passing was so upsetting, it was met with an enormous outpouring of love was astonishing. He was Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association and the Association of Marketing, both high accolades, as well as being a notable name on the comedy circuit and business community, especially in Scotland, a lot of people felt the loss quite deeply. 350 people attended his funeral. There were numerous obituaries in various media.

When someone dies we’re obviously sad for them and their family. But the emotion that creates our own tears comes from our own loss, our own lack of power, our own fears. We’re sad for the perceived loss of the future he’ll never have and that we’ll never share. It made me think, as we should all think every once in a while: Am I making a worthwhile contribution? Where am I at in the game of life?

I’m sad for his family. I’m sad he didn’t write the book I was always teasing him to get on with, “yeah, yeah, I know..” he’d say. We had the title: ‘We Can Be Heroes’ – the same as one of his keynote speeches. I’m sad I never did get back up to Scotland to do the joint events we’d mentioned.

When the game is over it all goes back in the box…

One day, all my stuff will have to go back in the box. But it’ll have to be a blumin’ great big box as I keep everything. I collect everything, even other people’s stuff. I’ve got the video I shot of Kenny at event we did together and I’ve got fifty plus photographs of him I took from various events he performed at where I was the event photographer.

So does it all go back in the box?

Kenny’s website is still here. His Facebook and Twitter accounts are still here. And people are still posting to them. The outpouring of love and memories are still here.

I can see him in my mind’s eye, his odd black and white hair (he said his mother was from East Kilbride and his father was a badger). I can still hear his voice, the slow, persuasive conversational stream of consciousness way he spoke, in that soft Glasgow accent. At first glance he didn’t necessarily deliver great oration, he simply got up on stage and had a one-to-one chat with everyone. (But that actually IS great oration).

His approach to creativity was contained in the name of his business, Headsurf.

From his website:

“Headsurfing™ is an exciting, energising approach to “Fluid Thinking for Solid Results” – allowing anyone to be more creative

H (Humour), E (Environment) and A (Attitude) are the “cultural conditions” necessary for productive creative thinking.

D is Defining the problem.

S is Speedthinking – generating ideas under pressure.

U stands for Unconnecting from the problem.

R represents Reframing the problem.

And F is for Following Through on your ideas.

These behaviours and techniques can be taught to anyone who needs to think more creatively and more productively – either through training programmes, or by booking a speaker for your next event. Simply click on the “Contact Kenny” button.”

Simply click on the button… How many of us wished that button still worked. When Alan Stevens, one of Kenny’s close friends, was organising Kenny’s funeral, he actually pressed the speed-dial button on his phone to call Kenny for advice. I nearly did the same when I had the idea of performing a selection of David Bowie songs at a recent Speakers event in memory of him.

I compiled a medley of appropriate songs. The 40th anniversary of the release of Ziggy Stardust had been our last conversation, a week or so before his death. He’d have loved it I know and yet again I can hear his voice, “what about Changes, why didn’t you work that in? Where’s Life on Mars? Or Ashes to Ashes?” and I’d say, “it wasn’t working Kenny, and anyway I’ve only got ten minutes…”

When the game is over it all goes back in the box…

Some of the playing pieces may have been packed away. But Kenny scribbled all over the board that we’re all still playing on. There’s no escaping that.

It’s usually called ‘legacy’, the bit that doesn’t fit back in the box.

Try as we might to shove it all back in, the legacy that Kenny has left has meant that we can’t get the lid back on that box, he stuffed it too full…

Kenny Harris tribute

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

You can see my musical tribute to Kenny here.

The modified lyrics are (to the tunes of The Jean Genie, Rebel Rebel, Ziggy Stardust, Starman, Space Oddity and Heroes:

A small Ken Kenny from East Kilbride
Sneaked out of Glasgow, nowhere to hide
Trained as a lawman, but that was no fun
Started Marketing Store, went on the run

Ken Kenny, does the Headsurf
Ken Kenny, a master of mirth
He’s outrageous, has a joke for us all
Ken Kenny, having a ball

Your audience thought they had yer
Didn’t know if you were man or a badger
Hey you, your hair’s all right
Hey you, let’s have a drink tonight

They’d put you down, you’d say they’re wrong
There’s no debate you haven’t won

Rebel rebel, you were the best
Rebel rebel, count ourselves blessed
Rebel rebel, how could we know?
Hey badger, we’ll miss you so

Kenny made us laugh, always the best after dinner
One time he took it too far, upset the Americans
Made it up in the bar
Always the special man, we were all in Kenny’s band

Then I couldn’t believe it
Taken from us far to soon
Lets’ raise a beer to remind us
Of our fellow friend, miss him to the end
Kenny made us laugh.


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The unfamiliar familiar


The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

“…he drew forth an evil weapon, a long yellowish tube ending in a bellows and a trigger. He turned, and upon his face was a mask, hammered from silver metal… The mask glinted, and he held the evil weapon in his hands, considering it. It hummed constantly, an insect hum. From it hordes of golden bees could be flung out with a high shriek. Golden, horrid bees that stung, poisoned, and fell lifeless, like seeds on the sand.”

I love that description. It’s so evocative. It builds a mental image that hasn’t been seen before and raises questions that haven’t been asked before. And yet what it describes is perhaps simply a gun and bullets. But it’s done so powerfully and emotively that the purpose of the weapon is built into the description. An ordinary thing, well understood by us all has been described anew. This is what poetry is. To evoke an image or feelings with such few words.

That extract is from The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury who died in June 2012.  He was probably my favourite author. His writings shaped how I chose to write and his way of writing coloured how I thought about writing.

There’s a magic in the unfamiliar familiar – viewing something from a different perspective.

Bradbury was the master of evocative descriptions that made you think and see in a different way and ask questions that had never been asked. He was the master of the ‘what if?’, many of his stories explored a speculative idea and took us on a journey to it’s startling conclusion. Going on that journey stretched the mind and exercise our creativity. Which is why everyone should read good science fiction, and good poetry.

Many years ago I wrote a short story, inspired by Bradbury, based on two ‘What if?’ questions. They were ‘What if our civilisation wasn’t the first to rise to our current level of technology?’ and ‘What if all the iron on Earth oxidized (i.e. rusted) instantaneously?’ (Read it here.)

I later found out that Bradbury himself had already tackled the rust question in a story called A Piece of Wood. He’s paired it up with a different primary agenda, ‘is war inevitable?’. You can read that story in his collection, Long After Midnight.

Here are two creativity exercises for you.

1. Choose an ordinary object (for example a coffee mug) and describe it without using familiar or mundane short cuts or cliches. Try to invoke the purpose of the object in your description (for example the coffee mug is yearning to be filled with a hot dark liquid as only then does it become complete).

This exercise not only teaches us about poetry but joins up neural pathways in our brains, enhancing our thinking and problem solving capabilities.

2. Choose a ‘What If?’ question such as ‘What if we could no longer use iron and steel’ and list out what the far-reaching consequences could be.

This too, stretches the mind and enhances our possibility thinking ability, helping us to make bigger and better intuitive leaps, the secret unconscious method of being more creative.

And if you want to read my short story, New Age of Darknessclick here.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Creativity and imagination from Star Wars


Star Wars figuresI was born at exactly the right time to live through the Star Wars phenomenon as it happened. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To older, more boring unimaginative people, Star Wars was just a film, albeit a very popular one with people queuing around the block to get tickets to see it, that broke new ground with special effects.

But to me it was like witnessing the Gospel.

I was the last to see it at my school. I was six years old. I badgered Sean as to what it was like. I knew there were robots in it, a gold humanoid one and a small Dalek-like one. I asked him if R2D2 had a gun, did he shoot like Daleks did? Sean couldn’t remember. Couldn’t remember? How could he not remember? I was busting to see it. I started to guess what it was about and made up a story that I thought might fit the bill.

We went to Newcastle one Saturday. There was an enormous poster of Darth Vader’s head covering the front of the cinema. I’d only been to the cinema once before, to see a Children’s Film Foundation film about a hot air balloon. We were given a programme in the foyer that introduced us to the concepts in the film.

The next day we had Star Wars Weetabix for breakfast. There were transfers in the packet that you could rub onto a diorama on the back of the box, of Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi’s lightsabre duel on the Death Star. We had to finish the packet before we could cut the box up. We’d never eaten so much Weetabix.

That was 1977, Jubilee year. This week, Jubilee year again and 35 years later to the day, I opened up the Sacred Glass Cabinet at the top of the stairs. It contains my 100+ Star Wars Action Figures. Mabel (4), Verity (nearly 2) and I selected a (large) collection and we took them downstairs and along with lego we created an adventure story. (Neither of the girls have seen Star Wars).

This is what they came up with:

Princess Leia (in Bespin outfit), R2D2, C3PO, TC14, and a friendly Jawa arrived in their snowspeeder to an ancient ruined pyramid which the team suspected contained a great secret. R2 went in through the gap in the wall, but didn’t return. C3PO was too nervous to investigate so Princess Leia called for help and Chewbacca and Hammerhead arrived in a landspeeder. Hammerhead’s big hands managed to move more bricks and Chewie went inside only to be met by a fierce Gammorean Guard. It turned out he wasn’t a baddie, he wanted to warn them of the unsafe structure. Chewie and Bossk went carefully in and pulled out R2 and a Death Star Droid who was in need of repair. 9D9 and Powerdroid got him working again and he told of the treasure that was still inside the pyramid. Working together they removed enough bricks to pull the treasure out. The Princess changed into her ceremonial white dress and it was time for everyones lunch.

Stories happen!

My girls were doing exactly what I’d done all those years ago. Star Wars figures are wonderful because they are so interesting. Palitoy seemed to deliberately make figures of all the minor characters and leave out many of the main ones. You couldn’t get Grand Moff Tarkin (played on screen by Peter Cushing) who’s central to the story. But you could get Death Star Commander, who you see for two seconds in the background.

My brother and I never played with them to re-create scenes from the film, instead we’d create characteristics and adventures for these lesser-known creatures, people and droids. R5D4, Dengar or Snaggletooth may only have appeared in the films for less than a second, but that’s what made them so fascinating. They could be whoever we wanted them to be.

I never got a Millennium Falcon playset, or the so obviously not-to-scale rubbish cardboard Death Star. I didn’t get the Jawa Sandcrawler, Boba Fett’s Slave One spaceship or the exciting giant AT-AT snow walkers either. They were all far too expensive and elaborate.

But I’ve never been so grateful for anything from my childhood as I am for NOT getting those toys for Christmas because it meant that instead I made my own.

I collected my Mum’s perfume bottle tops, cardboard, any plastic packaging. It was all saved up, glued together and painted. I had far better playsets than the ones prescribed by Palitoy and learnt model making into the bargain.

Oh, and the story I expected to see before I seen the actual film? I wrote it down and developed it as my own movie franchise with its own characters, robots and monsters. I even made action figures of them using Fimo.

I don’t think I’m particularly unique in having an imagination. Every child has one. But it needs to be developed and encouraged. I think it was mainly good luck that I became embroiled in Star Wars at the age I did in the way I did. It was such a good vehicle for the imagination. It still is. It’s a simple story, but so well told with such background depth that’s perfect fertile ground for the seeds of a child’s imagination to take root, explore and grow.

I believe we need to teach children how to play – not all of them can learn how to do it on their own. And I believe we need to give them the tools of play but need to be careful not to over prescribe too tight a formula and format. With many modern toys and especially computer games I feel there’s a real risk of that.

If your child finds more interest in the box the toy came in rather than the toy itself – keep watch, something interesting may be happening in that imagination of theirs…

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com